The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission



WASHINGTON - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today released a comprehensive policy guidance explaining the circumstances under which employers can be held liable for unlawful harassment by supervisors. The guidance, which analyzes the recent Supreme Court decisions in Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth and Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, addresses the steps employers should take to prevent and correct harassment. It also explains the nature of employees' obligations to bring complaints of harassment to their employers' attention. EEOC also released a summary of the guidance geared to small employers.

"Issuing this guidance marks another step in the Commission's on-going effort to promote voluntary compliance with the equal employment opportunity laws," said EEOC Chairwoman Ida L. Castro. "The guidance will broaden the understanding regarding the legal obligation of employers to effectively address harassment, and the obligation of employees to utilize their company's complaint mechanisms prior to filing a charge of discrimination. Following the steps set forth in this guidance will help employers and employees safeguard their rights and avoid violations of the law."

In Ellerth and Faragher, the Supreme Court ruled that employers are "vicariously liable" for harassment by supervisors. However, if the harassment did not result in a tangible job action, the employer can raise an affirmative defense that it exercised "reasonable care" to prevent and correct the harassment, and that the employee unreasonably failed to use its complaint procedure. The guidance explains that, based on the Supreme Court rulings, the standard of liability in a sexual harassment case also applies to harassment based on race, sex (of a sexual or non-sexual nature), national origin, age, disability, and harassment based on opposition to discrimination or participation in complaint proceedings.

In addition, the document includes practical advice, such as how an employer should conduct an investigation. It also lists examples of corrective measures that employers may take.

The guidance will be available on EEOC's web site ( shortly after release of the document. It can also be obtained by calling or writing to EEOC's Office of Communications and Legislative Affairs, 1801 L Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20507.

The EEOC enforces Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which protects workers 40 and older; the Equal Pay Act; the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in the private sector and state and local governments; prohibitions against discrimination affecting persons with disabilities in the federal government; and sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

This page was last modified on June 21, 1999.

Return to Home Page